Sometimes there is nothing like a good messy Reuben sandwich!
A good Reuben sandwich is a messy, mile-high affair made up of salty corned beef, tangy sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese, and a heaping dollop of Thousand Island dressing pressed between two slices of rye bread. Arguably one of the great culinary inventions of the twentieth century, it’s an unlikely combination that’s been a big hit for nearly 100 years.
The history of this sandwich is as messy as eating the sandwich itself! The murky background lurking in the history of this iconic sandwich leaves question as to its origins. While eating this sandwich can be very messy, there is nothing murky about its taste. It is undeniably delicious.
THE HISTORY OF THE REUBEN SANDWICH
New York Deli vs. Omaha Hotel
As a modern staple of New York Jewish delis, it seems natural that this is where the Reuben sandwich originated. Many claim that Arnold Reuben, proprietor of Reuben’s Restaurant and Deli on E. 58th Street, invented it in 1914. As his daughter tells the story, an actress named Annette Seelos (known for her starring roles in Charlie Chaplin films) came into the restaurant late one night and was just famished. She asked Reuben to make her a huge sandwich, so he took ham, turkey, Swiss, coleslaw, and Russian dressing and served it on rye bread. It was a hit, and he called it the Reuben Special.
Observant readers will note, however, that there are some key differences between that sandwich and the Reuben that we know and love today.
Which then brings us to Omaha, Nebraska, where others swear the Reuben sandwich was first concocted in the 1920s. It was there that Bernard Schimmel ran the kitchen at the Blackstone Hotel, which his father owned, and where he would also enjoy a weekly poker game with friends. As this legend goes, one of the players—local grocery store owner Reuben Kulafofsky—requested a sandwich with corned beef and sauerkraut. Schimmel, who was a European-trained chef, put his own spin on it by draining the sauerkraut, mixing it with Thousand Island dressing, then layering it with Swiss and homemade corned beef on dark rye bread. His crowning addition, though, was to grill it.
The earliest reference to a Reuben sandwich on a restaurant menu appears to be from the Blackstone’s main dining room in 1934, when the sandwich cost just 40 cents. To date, the Reuben Sandwich is the nation’s top hotel and restaurant sandwich.
I did not have the pleasure of eating my first Rueben until I was in my early 20’s. I remember going to this cool restaurant situated at an old train yard called Giuseppe’s Depot in Colorado Springs. My sandwich must have been a mile high. I remember thinking how on earth do they expect me to get my mouth around this thing?! That meaty, sauerkraut bite between two slices of rye bread was life-altering and spoiled me for any other sandwich. Others would be eclipsed forever in the shadows of its sandwich greatness!
THE ANATOMY OF THE RUEBAN
One of the key ingredients is a really good rye bread. The traditional Rueben sandwich is made with rye bread. Rye bread is made with either all rye flour or a combination of rye and wheat flours. There are different types of rye bread and the most popular are:
Pumpernickel – is a traditional rye bread developed in Germany made from whole rye berries and rye flour.
Dark Rye – Unlike pumpernickel, dark rye is made of coarsely ground flour ground from the endosperm with some of the bran and germ included. It uses a sourdough starter to ferment the grains. Dark rye is said to be similar to light rye except that for the use of darker flour, molasses and, sometimes, even cocoa. Caraway seeds are also frequently added to dark ryes.
Light rye – uses flour made only of the endosperm which is ground into fine flour. Like dark rye, it also uses a sourdough starter. Light rye flour is also used to make rye quick breads and biscuits. Light rye bread will absorb less water than dark ryes, causing it to be lighter after baking. In the United States, commercially made dark and light rye are commonly made in combination with wheat flour.
Marbled rye – is traditionally the combination of dark and light rye.
For my sandwich, I went with the 90-second Keto bread. Adding the caraway seeds to the recipe gives it a unique herby flavor which is needed for any Rueben. Toasting it took this quick low carb bread to another level!
Next up is the cheese. I used a sliced Swiss cheese. If you put a slice on both the bottom piece of the bread and the top piece of bread, the melted cheese acts as a barrier. That way, your bread won’t get soggy if you happen to add a little extra jus or sauerkraut juice. Just sayin’ you might.
Many people confuse corned beef with pastrami. They are a little different even though they are both beef cuts. Both pastrami and corned beef go through a curing process. Pastrami is then coated with a dry rub and smoked. The corned beef will be either boiled or roasted after curing. While I love pastrami, I never use it as a substitute for corned beef.
The sauerkraut is a vital component to the sandwich, as you really need something with a vinegary tang to it to offset the fatty meat and cheese of the sandwich. You can buy it fresh in the deli section of the grocery or you can make it from scratch. It’s so easy. I like making mine using the left over whey, I get as a byproduct of making my Greek yogurt. I add lots of caraway seeds to it as well to amp up the flavors. Be sure to drain the sauerkraut well so your sandwich isn’t soggy. If you aren’t a fan of sauerkraut, try using coleslaw instead.
A homemade Thousand Island dressing ties this sandwich together. I prefer my version of Thousand Island dressing to what you can purchase in the store because it’s spicier. Adding horseradish and dill pickle juice gives it the right amount of kick.
Put it all together and you have a sandwich so high that you have to figure out the best way to eat it. There is no doubt that its gonna be messy so grad a stack of napkins and dig in!
Keepin it fresh!
Classic Reuben Keto Style
- May 16, 2019
- 30 min
- 728 Cals/Serving
- Print this
- 90-Second Keto Bread (Serves 2)
- 6 tablespoons almond flour
- 2 egg
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (I just do a pinch of salt)
- 2 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- Thousand Island Dressing (Serves 6)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoon dill pickle juice
- 2 tablespoons Ketchup (Heinz No Sugar Added)
- ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dill pickle relish
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon horseradish
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 dashes Tabasco (optional)
- Fillings (Serves 2)
- 4 oz cooked corned beef (warmed)
- 4 slices Swiss cheese
- 1 cup sauerkraut (drained)
- Step 1
- Bread – Pour all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl (mine measures 4 inches wide at the bottom).
- Step 2
- Use a fork, or a small whisk to whisk it together. Place in the microwave for 90-seconds.
- Step 3
- Remove from microwave and allow to cool slightly. Then cut in half.
- Step 4
- Thousand Island Dressing – Add all ingredients to a small bowl and mix well. Taste and add additional salt if desired.
- Step 5
- Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld.
- Step 6
- Assembling Your Sandwich – toast bread (both sides) in a tablespoon of butter in a skillet.
- Step 7
- Preheat a frypan on medium to medium-low heat.
- Step 8
- Butter one side of each of the slices of bread and place the buttered sides together.
- Step 9
- On one set of bread, lay a slice of Swiss cheese on the bread, then top with half of the warmed corned beef, then half of the drained sauerkraut and half of the Russian dressing.
- Step 10
- Place the sandwich, buttered side down, in the frypan and top with another slice of cheese and the other side of the bread, buttered side up.
- Step 11
- Cover with a lid and cook until the cheese melts and the bread is golden.
- Step 12
- Flip and cook on the other side. Repeat with the makings of the other sandwich.